Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Hidden Side of Babel

News Flash from the Institute of General Semantics:
The Institute of General Semantics is pleased to announce that its judges have selected The Hidden Side of Babel: Unveiling Cognition, Intelligence and Sense by Laura Bertone (Buenos Aries: EvoluciĆ³n, 2006) as the winner of its inaugural Samuel I. Hayakawa Book Prize. The Hayakawa Book Prize goes to the most outstanding work published in the past five years on topics of direct relevance to the discipline of general semantics, and includes a cash award of $1,000. The Hidden Side of Babel was chosen by judges Martin Levinson, Jacqueline Rudig, and Lance Strate, from a highly competitive field of ten finalists. Dr. Bertone is a Visiting Professor at the Masters’ Program of Translation and Interpretation at the University of Buenos Aires, and the Director of the consulting firm EVOLUCION, devoted to improving communication processes and to organizing educational seminars and events. A native of Argentina, she worked in Paris as an AIIC professional conference interpreter for twenty years, and holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Paris VIII University. The Hayakawa Prize will be presented to Laura Bertone at the Across the Generations: Legacies of Hope and Meaning conference on September 11-13, 2009, at Fordham University in New York City, where she will be one of the featured speakers.
Congratulations Laura! My wife helped Laura edit her book and having read it myself I heartily recommend it to one and all. In a very real sense we all actually speak different languages even if we speak the 'same' language. What are the challenges in trying to understand and not misunderstand, to be understood and not be misunderstood? How do we know when we are doing one and not the other? Laura's book will give you a new perspective on how you communicate and how you can do it better.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Minds in Uniform"

Geoffrey Sampson has written an article "Minds in Uniform" seeking to demonstrate that Noam Chomsky's and now Steven Pinker's view of language ultimately promotes what could be considered, in my terms, a form of 'intellectual fascism'. Controversial stuff. Nicely written. The abstract, below provides a summary of the article:
Linguistic theory is seen by many of its practitioners as an enterprise as ethically neutral as mathematics. But it provides apparent scientific justification for a model of cognition which is currently fashionable for non-scientific reasons, and which threatens the future flourishing of the human spirit. According to Steven Pinker and, before him, Noam Chomsky, language is a rich source of evidence for the idea that the structure and contents of human thought are constrained by genetics as rigidly as the shape and functioning of the human body. This idea harmonizes with legal and political developments of the last twenty years, under which distinctive cultural norms evolved by independent societies are increasingly being swept aside in favour of universal enforcement of aprioristic systems imposed from above. Whereas 18th- and 19th-century imperialists recognized that the cultures of different societies were indeed different (though they set out to eliminate some of the differences), 21st-century internationalism is made to seem uncontroversial by trivializing the extent of existing cultural differences. The Pinker/Chomsky model of human cognition implies that the differences are indeed trivial. But that model is baseless. It rests chiefly not on empirical observation but on surmises about language behaviour; now that corpus linguistics is allowing us to check the accuracy of such surmises, they turn out to be wildly wrong even for English. Meanwhile, anthropological linguists such as Daniel Everett are showing us that differences between the intellectual worlds encoded by the languages of separate societies can be far larger than even pre-generative linguists suspected. If our genes do not constrain our ideas, we have no reason to assume that the belief-system of the leaders of North American and European societies anno 2006 is the last word in human intellectual development. We must be free to move forward intellectually in the future, and we should reject models of human cognition which deny that freedom.
Here's the link to the full article: Minds in Uniform

Monday, August 24, 2009

Quote (2) of the Day - 'Honesty & Deceit'

"It is discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit."
— Noel Coward

(Qtd. in Wordsmanship: Semantics as a Communist Weapon by Stefan Possony. A Study Prepared for the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate. U.S. Govt. Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1961)

Quote of the Day - 'History'

"Frequently in history the burden rested on men behind the screen, the fancy and proud actors on the stage were only marionettes."
— Dagobert D. Runes (Dictionary of Thought)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Helping Soldiers and Veterans Readjust

"Army Will Train Soldiers To Cope With Emotions" says the headline of yesterday's front page New York Times article (August 18, 2009). The story, entitled on the WWW as "Mental Stress Training Is Planned for U.S. Soldiers" details a new $117 Million program that the U.S. Army is instituting to eventually train all 1.1 million soldiers in emotional resiliency. This is part of the Department of Defense's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program . With the 'mental' health problems of depression, 'post-traumatic stress disorder', and suicide coming to the fore as major problems for combat troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, these issues are now getting the attention they deserve. With consultation from a number of psychologists, such as Martin Seligman, George A. Bonanno, Karen Reivich and others, pilot programs will be started on two military bases with the initial focus on training sergeants who will be able to teach the techniques to enlisted men and women. The methods being taught are based on the work of Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, among others.

The article made a few related points which 'floored me' as a korzybskian general semantics scholar. First, that this training would be the first of its kind. Not the case—as readers of this blog will soon see. Then quoting from the New York Times article,
"It's important to be clear that there's no evidence that any program makes soldiers more resilient," said George A. Bonanno, a psychologist at Columbia University. But he and others said the program could settle one of the most important questions in psychology: whether mental toughness can be taught in the classroom."
No evidence? Also not the case.

During World War Two, Douglas M. Kelley, a psychiatrist and student of Alfred Korzybski, served as Chief Consultant in Clinical Psychology and Assistant Consultant in Psychiatry to the European Theatre of Operations. Both prior to and after the D-Day invasion of Normandy by Allied Forces, Kelley worked in army hospitals in England and Belgium with psychiatric casualties from "combat exhaustion". Kelley's program of treatment involved intensive but brief classes and group counseling sessions based primarily on Korzybski's educational approach. Kelly also trained non-psychiatrist field medics and surgeons, who served during the Normandy invasion, in these methods . There is some evidence (although statistical data was lost), that the use of these methods with thousands of troops may have had something to do with the reduced number of psychiatric casualties during the D-Day invasion (as compared with previous Allied invasions in North Africa and Italy).

Korzybski, himself, and other of his students also worked with people suffering from what is now referred to as 'post-traumatic stress disorder'.

Kelley's paper on his work in the European Theatre of Operations, "The Use of General Semantics And Korzybskian Principles As An Extensional Method of Group Psychotherapy In Traumatic Neurosis" was originally published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases in 1951, Vol. 114 (3), Sept., pp. 189-220. (In his paper, Kelly presented the details of his classes in sufficient detail for others to reproduce and build upon.)

Korzybski's paper with a case study, "A Veteran's Re-Adjustment and Extensional Methods," was originally published in ETC, Vol. III (4), Summer 1946 and also appeared in part in The American Journal of Psychiatry, "Clinical Notes," Vol. 103, No. 1, July 1946. Korzybski soon had it distributed as a separate reprint. It was reprinted in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, 1920-1950 published by the Institute of General Semantics in 1990. Here is a link to Korzybski's original reprint version: A Veteran's Re-Adjustment and Extensional Methods.

Both papers have been reprinted together along with a number of other seminal articles in the Institute of General Semantics' book General Semantics In Psychotherapy: Selected Writings On Methods Aiding Therapy edited by Isabel Caro and Charlotte Schuchardt Read. (My wife, Susan Presby Kodish also has an article in the book and provided major editorial help in bringing the book into print.) Also available (for less than at at the Institute of General Semantics E-Bookstore

Shouldn't expert consultants like Bonanno who are helping design the Army's new program to help our troops be a little more careful in making pronouncements about what evidence does or doesn't exist? Especially since this is not the Army's first effort in this kind of thing. In this blog piece, I've pulled some of the forgotten material out of the memory hole. And the project designer-evaluator-researchers including the Army people who are participating in this important program now have no excuse for not educating themselves about what has already been done.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

From The Stray Thought Bin

I've finally seen one.*
* I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one.
But I will tell you anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one.
Gelett Burgess

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bukowski Poem

Probably the best of 'Beats' for me.
He got beaten the best—he beat it.
I see him as a man that I might be,
if I'd lived a life as troubled as he.